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There’s a whole wide world out there, and we’re going to stick to Michigan because there’s some frickin’ crazy stuff going on. We piled, literally, into the Official Volkswagen Gulf of kolo t.c. (it’s actually a GTI but Wes is way too proud of it) for a little wintertime adventure. For our Traverse City readers, this may be a shock, but just two hours south lies a lush, green, sprawling spring oasis. Even south of Cadillac, the landscape changed from a frozen hellscape to a sunshine soaked treat for the soul.

It was my first time checking out the East Paris location of Grand Rapids Bicycle Co., and we Electric Slid in the door as Tyler, Chris and Steve were fielding a midday rush, which gave us a few minutes to poke around. I really like how many options are around, with everything from Foundry ‘cross bikes, Cannondale hydbrids, Salsa Woodsmokes and some sweet Plus bikes built and ready to go. GRBC does a damn good job on their clothing, too, and their line-up of shop kit and even branded baggy shorts had me imagining myself drafting behind Matt Acker’s beard in a cool bow-tied jersey. We’ve all imagine that, I’m sure.

I’ve been a bit sheltered when it comes to bike shops for the past, oh, four and half years, and today’s trip saw me visit three different shops in as many days. It really is so cool to see how each shop takes on the personality of its staff. East Paris was very much product of Tyler and Chris, two laid back dudes up for some big rides and adventures. Fast or slow, they’re more about seeing what can be done rather than how quickly they can get in their intervals and get home.

In fact, one of my favorite rides of the past few years was our Livin’ It ride last winter. Tyler talked me into not just from in TC to the Winter Sports Singletrack, riding that, plus some Hydrocut, plus some Pathway, and then all the way home, but then doing Friday Night Lights later as well. One of the hardest, and most fun, days I’ve had on the bike, ever.

We chatted about bikes and trails over lunch at Trailhead Cafe. NOTE: The grilled veggie wrap is great, don’t sleep on it. Grand Rapids has a lot going on for trails, and in a lot of ways, are facing the things TC was up against for its winter trails two years ago. Between fat bikes, runners, guys on 29ers, and general hellraisers, places like Luton and Merrill and Yankee Springs feel a lot like the Vasa and Singletrack did as fat bikes were getting bigger. There is an issue with a sense of ownership by one or more user groups, and a real need to put trail maintenance and grooming efforts into a more unified structure. In TC, we were lucky to have TART and NMMBA come together, with a lot of other people involved, to create a system that works for everyone. That’s going to be a lot tougher in GR, where there are more locations and more entities to deal with, but with such a big population base and more interest, it seems like it should very doable.

East Paris is a cool spot for a shop, and there were loads of people stopping in on their lunch hour. Guys dropping off wheels, picking up new bikes, and just saying hey (Looking at you, Eric Mock) it was a very cool vibe. After spending some time at Fulton and Ada, seeing the third head of the triumvirate kind of tied everything together for me, like a nice rug. That’s right, Tyler. You guys are the rug that ties the room together.

And apparently they can 1) Read 2) Read kolo, because they were slightly aghast that I was riding such a heavy rig in a REAL LIFE fat bike race when 1) They have bikes and 2) They have bikes I can ride. They wouldn’t let me leave without a Salsa Beargrease X7 to take into action this weekend, plus a full bag of SPANDEX items. My only guess on why they have so much men’s small stuff is Earl HIllaker didn’t need it all for himself.

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Loaded up with a #HOT new fat bike, a bag of clothes and a whole new happy hitch in my giddy up, we finally headed to work to chat with our day job boss, Chris. And after talking about bikes for 30 minutes, we carried on with the fun stuff and headed to Holland.

Brad White has been up to TC loads of times for fat bike rides and even a few very memorable appearances at TNR, but it’s been years since I’ve been to Holland. The shop moved out of downtown by a few blocks, and Wes used the Jetta (like a Golf but somehow even more lame) to whip through traffic and wheel us in. Veto City Cycles was hopping with an afternoon rush, but this time, Wes wasn’t hanging back.

Wes has wanted a Cannondale for years. YEARS. He’s been obsessed by green paint and Lefty folks, with a man crush on Marco Fontana to boot. Well, with things a changin’, it was finally a time where he could fulfill his dream, and all it took was about 5 hours in the car and a credit card.

Brad set him up on a Cannondale FS-i Carbon 4, with a few Wes-ifications, including a 34t chainring, some pink ESI Chunky grips, and exactly 23psi in both tires. Not really. Wes has no idea how much air goes in a tire. We do that for him. Geared up, it was time for a test rip, and Brad was kind enough to take us for an urban assault through Holland.

He’d told me to expect a special surprise before we left TC for Holland, and just as Wes was wheeling his new bike out the front door, Brent (yes, THE Brent, Wrench to the Stars! Brent) tossed a Cannondale Slate into his stand and put some platforms on for me. I’ve been really interested in the Slate since they introduced it, but again, never had a chance to check it out. When the bike was unveiled a few years ago, tons of people sent me links to it, saying it was the perfect bike for me. I ride a cyclocross bike 89% of the year, on road and off, and having just that little forgiveness of a suspension fork was intriguing. The 650 wheels, too, seemed like a great idea for anyone with some interest in hopping onto trails.

So, we did. We curb-hopped, door-dodged, ditch-dipped and sign-sprinted across Hope College’s campus (hey, ladies) to the fat bike course from Sunday. There was a solid brown stripe of mud where the fat tires had spent upwards of 90 minutes in 25mph winds and deep, speed-sucking grass. Brad was on his Salsa Beargrease, Wes was grinning like a damn fool on his new bike, and I was finally back on some drop bars after far too long of a hiatus.  I can’t give the Slate any real review, but it was damn fun for what we squeezed in before stopping at Our Beer Company and telling some tall tales.

Back at VCC, Brent and the guys gave Wes’ bike a final tweak before we carefully, carefully placed it in the VW Rabbit, balanced on the ‘Grease. The back of the #HotHatch was like a carbon jigsaw puzzle. Way cool. 

Well, 6 hours total in the car was well worth the company and catching up with some of Grand Rapids’ nicest humans. We’re hoping to work in more trips, so if you’ve got some cool stuff going on, let us know on the Contact page and we’ll make our way your way. Thanks to Grand Rapids Bicycle Co., Trailhead Cafe and Velo City Cycles for letting us stand in the way for a bit!